Jennifer Schuett’s life has been marked by two instances in which she felt utterly powerless: when she was abducted at age eight by a stranger and in the years that followed when the case went cold. She wondered if her attacker would ever be brought to justice.
Detective Tim Cromie, of the Dickinson, Tex., Police Department eventually helped to capture a suspect after nearly 20 years. The story has been covered by the Houston Chronicle
Schuett, now an adult, and Cromie shared their story during a discussion Oct. 6 at the Lawrence Street Center organized by Associate Professor Callie Rennison in the School of Public Affairs
, along with co-sponsor Alpha Phi Sigma, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society.
On Aug. 9, 1990, Schuett says she hopped into her single mother’s bed, as she’d always done, after a summer outing that left her covered in mosquito bites. At 2 a.m., Schuett’s mother complained that Jennifer’s squirming and scratching of the bites was keeping her up.
“I said, ‘Mom, just because I love you I’m going to sleep in my own bedroom tonight,’” Schuett said. “That could have been the last time I spoke to her … Soon I woke up in the arms of a man I didn’t know.”
He drove her around for several hours then strangled, raped and attempted to kill her. She awoke to him dragging her by the ankles in a field and leaving her on a pile of fire ants while she drifted in and out of consciousness.
A classmate playing in the field found Schuett and the rest of her story unfolded like an episode of the “Cold Case” TV show. The key was the pairing of Schuett with Cromie and FBI agent Richard Rennison.
“You have to find the investigator willing to hear you out and work with you as a team,” Schuett told the audience. “Going into that (first) meeting with (Cromie) I was really angry” from past investigators who didn’t bring passion to the case.
Their presentation focused on dogged police work and insights into how investigations have progressed through advancements in evidence procedures and technology, especially DNA matching, which brought up the prime suspect Dennis Earl Bradford.
Bradford ultimately confessed to the attack and was jailed. However, just before his May 2010 trial, he hung himself in the Galveston County (Texas) Jail.
That aspect is still devastating to Schuett, who wanted to see Bradford receive a life sentence.
“I wanted him to be caught and I wanted him to know he wouldn’t be able to hurt another person for the rest of his life,” she said.